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Lately, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous look like they have gotten lost, or are confused about which wards they represent. And newly elected At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil acts as if he doesn’t realize the campaign ended last November.
Last week, Evans strayed from his Dupont Circle-Georgetown base to commune with Ward 5 residents about crime in their Northeast neighborhood. The tour continues this Friday, when Evans will speak with voters at Player’s Lounge, the popular political gathering spot in Ward 8.
Chavous is also crisscrossing town to track down politically active types. He recently pitched his own crime-fighting plan to residents along Wisconsin Avenue NW. And Brazil, who until recently stayed close to his home base in Ward 6, appeared at last month’s meeting of Ward 3 Democrats.
But Evans, Chavous, and Brazil are deliberately stepping off home plate. They’re busy running for mayor, even though the election is still more than 17 months off.
The hopefuls have already done enough pre-campaigning to hint at their strategies for wresting the 11th floor of 1 Judiciary Square from Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Evans hopes to use his chairmanship of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee, which he yanked from Brazil last December, to win crime-panicked voters beyond his Ward 2 constituency.
Chavous, chair of the council’s education committee, is alternately campaigning on public safety and the school-closing controversy, depending on the constituency he’s addressing. And Brazil, never shy about grandstanding, has used his council pulpit of late to sharpen his attacks on Barry for embracing President Bill Clinton’s plan to save D.C.
The White House plan calls for the federal government to end its annual $660-million payment to the city and instead pick up the tab for D.C. prisons, pensions, and courts, and hike Medicaid payments. Councilmembers were the first to sound the alarm over ending the 180-year-old federal payment, and the reverberations have echoed through the D.C. financial control board and Wall Street investment bankers.
“If no one else is going to take responsibility for protecting the District from this assault on home ruleand it is clear now that the mayor is content to trade a limousine and police escort for the rest of the powers of the mayor’s officethen it is crucial that the council stand together on this,” Brazil said at a council hearing last month.
With the death last week of council Chairman Dave Clarke, the city lost one of its two elected officials still able to run strong citywide and pull votes in every precinct. (The other is D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.) Barry certainly can’t even come close to winning a citywide majority, but he is trying to maintain enough of his east-side base to hang on for one more term.
Brazil and Evans, who have little appeal east of the river, are fighting over voter-rich precincts in the city’s western half. Both candidates have said all the right things to the city’s business leaders and should have all the campaign cash they will need next year.
Chavous has shed his earlier reluctance to profile for the top job and has formulated a strong campaign strategy: Cripple Barry by mobilizing his Ward 7 base and sell a reformist agenda to west-side voters.
John Ray proved in 1994 that you can’t ride west-side voters to the mayor’s office, so the 1998 field of hopefuls will engage in hand-to-hand combat in Wards 4 and 5, which may be the decisive battlegrounds.
But Evans, Brazil, and Chavous are privately hoping that Barry will assess the forces against him and step down when his current term ends. His rivals fully expect Congress and the control board to assist Barry in reaching that decision by whittling away more of his powers so that he has little more to do than cut ribbons for new groceries opening up in Southeast.
Republicans in Congress are also threatening to saddle the District with a runoff election so that Barry can’t perpetuate his monarchy by capturing merely one-fourth to one-third of the votes cast in the always decisive Democratic primary.
So far, though, Hizzoner is still standing despite the fusillades that Congress and the control board have fired at him. And he shows no sign at this point of heeding those who want him to ride off quietly into the sunset.
REEVES’ BOARD REVOLT
The control board has taken a pounding from some quarters for its decision last November to defrock the elected school board in favor of an appointed panel of “trustees.” With each passing day, however, the now irrelevant school board makes the control board potentates look more and more visionary for stripping them of all power over the failing D.C. public schools.
In a classic display of pettiness, the elected school board two weeks ago voted to refuse to give the appointed board office space in the Presidential Building downtown. The elected board has plenty of unused space in the building, but school board president Don Reeves and company apparently don’t want to associate with their appointed rivals.
Chairman Bruce MacLaury and his eight colleagues on the appointed board are forced to work out of their homes or businesses.
Although Reeves had no trouble building a winning coalition to deny the appointed board office keys, he is facing a palace revolt from his own colleagues on other matters. Ward 1 school board member Wilma Harvey and Ward 4 member Sandra Butler-Truesdale are disappointed with Reeves’ public attacks on MacLaury. The two malcontents last month requested a “board conference” to put their gripes to Reeves, who as school board president also serves on MacLaury’s board.
Reeves at first agreed to the conference but canceled at the last minute. Now Harvey says she intends to get four of her colleagues to sign a letter demanding the meeting. If five of the 11 elected board members sign the letter, Reeves will be obligated to comply under board rules, according to Harvey.
Harvey claims that Reeves did not consult with his colleagues on the elected board before attacking MacLaury for a range of slights including denying elected board members information on the schools and keeping deliberations from the public. In addition, Harvey has stapled Reeves with the same criticism Reeves has leveled at MacLaury: “Don did not even show up at the last trustees meeting, and he didn’t even notify anyone on this board so we could sit in,” Harvey groused.
“I feel that the board, even in our advisory capacity, needs to focus on giving some good advice to this board of trustees,” Harvey said this week. “[Reeves] cannot just speak without consulting with members of the board of education.”
MacLaury and Harvey may soon be consoling each other over their displeasure with Reeves’ willingness to sound off at the click of a reporter’s pen.
Staff members of the late Clarke are dreading his homecoming this week. After not seeing their boss since he entered Georgetown University Hospital Dec. 30, they are going to be forced to walk past Clarke’s body, lying in state in the first-floor lobby of the John A. Wilson/District Building, to get into and out of their offices on Thursday.
“It’s going to be strange,” observed Clarke staffer Jack Nelson, who was hoping that District Building offices would be closed for the public viewing.
According to District Building records, D.C.’s seat of government has been closed only once to mourn the passing of a city leader. On July 18, 1941, the building closed for the funeral of Melvin C. Hazen, then president of the old Board of Commissioners, who died at his desk after 52 years of D.C. government service. Hazen, 72 at the time of his death, had risen from the job of clerk in the tax assessor’s office to become the highest-ranking city official at the time. He had been appointed to the Board of Commissioners by President Roosevelt in 1933.
Clarke became the first city official to lie in state in the 89-year-old District Building when his body was taken there April 3 for public viewing…
D.C. councilmembers were on their way to a scheduled meeting with the financial control board last Friday morning, March 28, when they got word of Clarke’s death. But the meeting went on as planned, and no one involved suggested that business as usual might not be appropriate under the circumstances.
“There was never any thought of not holding the meeting,” said a council staffer in disbelief…
Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who has been presiding over the council during Clarke’s three-month absence, does not want to give up that job right away. Now that the position is vacant, the council must pick an interim chair until an election is held to choose Clarke’s successor. Jarvis wants to put off the selection, expected to be At-Large Councilmember Linda Cropp, until at least early May, ostensibly to avoid disrupting council work on next year’s budget, which is already well under way.
But council staffers suspect the real reason may be that Jarvis wants to be the one who signs the historic Memorandum of Understanding with President Clinton on the president’s plan to save D.C.
“Charlene loves hobnobbing in power circles, and all this negotiating on the president’s plan involves hobnobbing in the biggest power circle,” one staffer noted…
The day Clarke died, some 500 mourners gathered at St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square for a March 27 memorial to Samuel Spencer, who presided over the Board of Commissioners in the mid-1950s. During his four-year reign, Spencer ordered an end to racial discrimination in public hiring, and two-thirds of city agencies subsequently became integrated…
The week of goodbyes to great city leaders ended with the death of Statehood Party stalwart Josephine Butler. Much like Clarke, Butler unnerved the city’s elected leaders because she fervently believed in statehood, environmental protection, and historic preservationapple-pie issues most of them only wanted to pay lip service to.
When Butler seemed to have an at-large council seat within her grasp in 1984, Democrats on the council torpedoed her election by launching a write-in campaign for the Rev. Jerry Moore Jr. The strategy backfired and helped elect Republican Carol Schwartz, who had unseated Moore in the GOP primary.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
The Airborne Express messenger panicked March 19 when he discovered he had delivered the permits and paperwork for the annual Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus visit to the wrong address. Instead of dropping the paperwork off at the Capitol Hill home of a D.C. government official, the messenger had slipped the documents through the door of a retired federal worker who would be out of town until May. The error threatened to keep the circus from opening at the D.C. Armory March 25, and had the mayor’s office threatening to get the Airborne Express messenger fired unless he could retrieve the documents right away.
After several hours of knocking on doors on the 100 block of F Street SE, the worried courier finally located a neighbor who had a key. But when the woman learned that an aide to the mayor had been threatening to send over Hizzoner in person to break into the private residence, the neighbor snatched back the package and demanded to see Barry. She wanted Barry’s promise to plant more trees in Garfield Park, reinstate the curbside recycling program, and restore money cut from the schools before she would hand over the documents.
But she relented after a few moments of pleading from the courier, and the circus came to town last week as scheduled.
“I never knew the mayor had the power to get into a private home,” a bemused neighbor said of the threat by the mayor’s office.
Neither did LL.CP
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